Marching in DC (Demo Page from FREEMAN COLBY VOL. 3)

Here’s how I build a demo page from Freeman Colby Vol. 3 using my SETTING+ACTION+RESULT story-starter page layout.

(Along the way we’ll make an exciting discovery…)

This work is PATRON-POWERED!


“Setting+Action+Result” (S+A+R) Page Layout

This 3-panel page layout is ideal for starting a new scene:


For this demo page, my goal is to cartoon a street scene from Washington DC, spring 1864 (to be used in Freeman Colby Vol. 3).  

As I draw below, this plan will change a bit — My ACTION and RESULT panels will become CHARACTER panels, showing eyewitnesses reacting to the SETTING panel.

It All Starts with a PRIMARY SOURCE IMAGE: 

I found this cool photo of the street that runs near Sarah Low’s ward @ Armory Square Hospital, looking up towards the just-completed US Capitol dome: 

^ “Washington, D.C., April 1865 [i.e. 1863?]” [] >> // (You can also view this location FROM the Capitol dome — w/ the hospital clearly visible — HERE.)

The layout of this photo will present a challenge as we read through the comics page. The (English language) comics reader’s PATH will normally go from UPPER LEFT to LOWER RIGHT — See the YELLOW arrow @ right. 

Thus, any traffic moving DOWN the street (GREEN arrow) ends up reading BACK into the left of the page.  Any traffic moving UP the street (PINK arrow) ends up reading BACK into the top of the page.  

I want the traffic to move ALONG the direction of reading, and lead to the lower right corner.

Thus, I’ll have to flip the image horizontally (a.k.a. “mirror” it):

This layout aligns the grain of the composition with our READING PATH (YELLOW):

All traffic moves ALONG WITH the reader (GREEN), or ENCOUNTERS the reader (PINK), & we all end up at the LOWER RIGHT, ready to turn to the next page. 

Washington, D.C., April 1865 [i.e. 1863?] bird’s-eye view of the Smithsonian Institution building in the near distance with the Capitol building in the background. (Library of Congress)


Okay, but what goes on in this empty street? 

First of all, it’s NOT empty!  

Civil War-era photography just couldn’t capture movement, so this street might be full of traffic coming & going. 

See the blur in the detail @ right? That’s a horse or carriage that must’ve almost paused or turned while the photo was being taken:  

If you look really closely at the original image, you may find a few other such ghosts, almost in view… 

My first thought is to show an army wagon train taking supplies to the front ~ That’ll send the message that the campaigning (i.e. battle) season is about to start. 

Here’s a useful sketchbook page by Alfred Waud, showing army supply trains: 

^ “Sheridan’s Wagon Trains in the Valley. Early morning mist and smoke” (Alfred Waud / Oct. 1864) [] >> 

Now we have some of the details we need to populate that street with wagons, mules, & teamsters: 

PANEL 1: Our street scene, plus a small section of an enormous wagon train.

PANEL 2: I’ve put Freeman Colby (still sick) in the hospital doorway, sweeping & watching the passing wagons (= 2 ACTIONS).  Note how the 2nd action — Watching the wagons — requires synthesis of PANELS 1+2, & places Colby off to the side in this particular scene.

PANEL 3: Along the street, one of Colby’s reading students looks on from a different angle.  The main traffic flow aligns with this panel, placing this character in the center of the page’s narrative — This panel feels to me like an implied, unstated result.

I like how all the wordless gazing lets us imagine what they’re thinking about the events swirling around them…  


But before I ink this, I’m re-thinking it. Something nags at me here — I feel like I might be missing something important here. Should it really be a wagon train?  In city streets?

OR ~ Are there OTHER ghosts in this scene, waiting for us to notice them? I look back over my sources, & find this: 

Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865 (Noah Andre Trudeau / 2002) >> (page 207-208)

(Notice how I underlined that text back when I first read it — who knows HOW long ago — and then forgot about it? Those underlines help me find the important facts NOW, when I come back to it!)

BUT OF COURSE! That’s my big discovery:

The end of April, 1864 brought the very first parade of US Colored Troops in DC! Burnside’s entire 9th Corps marched right through this area ~
Willard’s Hotel is just blocks away!
Lincoln even reviewed these troops!
Walt Whitman was there ~ He saw Lincoln doff his cap!  
And it’s all reported out by NH native, Charles Coffin.

That settles it ~ I’ll erase the wagon train & draw in some ranks of 9th Corp USCT men.


Here’s a reference pic of USCT formations ~
100% discipline & regimentation:

^ US. Colored Troops (National Archives?) >> 

I’ll cartoon them w/o faces, as uniform stick-figures in measured rows: 

This really changes the GAZE of Colby & his student…
They’re watching this historic event from the sidewalk…
(& in a matter of days, they’ll join the marching, too.)

Time to ink: 

Putting ink on the pencils:

So there’s a page.

Washington DC. / 26 April, 1864. 


Now here’s a little bonus fun fact ~ 

These troops are marching 5 abreast ~
So 10 ranks is 50 soldiers, and 20 ranks (what’s shown on this page) is 100 soldiers ~ Or in other words, a “company”: 

When Colby says he’s in “Company K” of the 39th Mass. Regiment, that’s what he means.  It’s a group of THAT many soldiers (100), all under the command of the same captain. 

So check this out ~ One REGIMENT is 10 companies, or ~1000 men. So 10 such pages would show an entire regiment: 

That’s 1000 marching men, right there. 

(I joked w/ my students that I could put 10 pages of this in the book, & just make minor changes to the background clouds & crowds… That’d be like watching an entire regiment march by!)

But then ~
Consulting our UNION ARMY UNITS chart (p.532-33 in Vol. 2), we see that 2-5 such regiments make a brigade… 


  • (10 pages) x3 = 30 pages = 1 Brigade
  • (30 pages) x4 = 120 pages = 1 Division 
  • (120 pages) x3 = 360 pages = 1 CORPS

So to show the ENTIRE 9th CORPS marching past, it would require…
300…? 320…?
360-some pages like this? 

I find this simply mind-boggling. 

We would STILL need how many MORE PAGES to show the wagons & mules & men & gear in their sprawling supply train…!?!?!

 Yyyyyyeah. In the book, I think I’ll just show this ONE panel, to hint at the event!

But I do believe the whole vast adventure can be tucked into just a few key details — If we know how to read ’em.  

Published by Marek

Cartoonist, musician, teacher.

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